Archive | October, 2010

Crossing the Barbed Wire with the Blue Bird

6 Oct

I spent the night of September 30th traveling, and part of October 1st on the expressway of Farola in order to get to Baracoa.  The 7th session of the committee of the Eastern Democratic Alliance was to be held in Maisi, but the detentions began on Friday and did not cease until Sunday. The grand total of detentions was 19, with 6 deportations to Camaguey, Guantanamo, Santiago de Cuba, and las Tunas.  There weren’t any beatings and there was less confrontation than other times, but it was still a mass operation which included the extensive search of the beaches which they thought we would try to escape by in order to get to Maisi.

In my case, I was detained along with 5 other human rights activists.  Amid all of this, I noted something interesting: we spent various hours stationed on the outskirts of the road waiting for a military transport to take us to the police unit in Baracoa.  When we got there, a political police officer ordered for us to be removed from the barracks immediately, a much different scenario than the usual, where we are nearly always put in cells instead.  While we traveled aboard the olive-green jeep I thought that I was the king of the internet, for I was using Twitter to report the names of those who were detained, in order of the news I was receiving.  I could already picture myself turning into a blue bird and flying to the homes of friends outside of Cuba and telling them the news.

But what a fiasco, none of my 140-character messages arrived at their destination, yet each and every one of them was charged to my account.  The list of the detainees was the same as always: Rolando and Nestor Lobaina, Idalmis Nunez, Omar Wilson, Jorge Corrales, Belkis Barbara Portal, Virgilio Mantilla — in sum, 19 peaceful dissidents who were impeded from freely walking towards the lighthouse of Maisi, the eastern-most point of the island. There, we were planning to read the calling for the Unity in Diversity document which the Democratic Alliance had launched, but since such acts were impeded two days later, while we had been released we re-grouped in a central area of the city.

Early that day, we silently walked more than ten blocks, all the way to the bust of Marti where we placed a floral gift and sang the anthem before the eyes of hundreds of Baracoa natives.  The Cuban G-2 (secret police) watched us during the entire process but did not impede the march.  I’m starting to think that they did not want to repeat the macabre spectacle which they carried out last August when they took part in the condemnation mob against the Rodriguez Lobaina family.  During those days, I could easily notice the air of disgust towards the political police which permeated among many locals after the beatings and barbaric acts which were carried out in the home of the brothers, where they used rocks to shatter the windows of the apartment where their father lives, and when they beat up some inhabitants.

To top it off, my old Sony digital camera ceased working, and seemingly forever.  This is why I haven’t been able to take a single photo as I am used to doing on any of these trips.  This time, you will all have to just settle with these bunch of words, believing or disbelieving what I say.

Today, many of us who report from this eastern cave have our cell phones blocked from making calls to places outside of Cuba.  Meanwhile, Cubacel still continues charging us their draconian rates. The police continues to restrict our movements, shoving gags in our mouths so we won’t speak up, and strictly spying on us wherever we go. And as if that wasn’t enough, Twitter has just shut off the only ray of light we had left upon their shutting down messaging through the phone.  In which direction are we headed?  Reporting what really happens in Cuba, which is ignored by the popular media outlets, will become a rare privilege if the Great Blue Bird does not come back.

* Friends who have showed solidarity and who have found out about the difficulty of sending messages through twitter with our cell phones have opened a provisional account, which we dictate through the phone, to cross the barbed wires from Holguin to Guantanamo.

@alambradasCuba @RRLobaina @jccpalenque


Translated by Raul G.

A Firing in the Holguin Culture Sector

6 Oct

As expected by many for some time, the boss of the National Union of Cuban Artists and Writers (UNEAC), came down from his presidential throne in Holguin.

Miguel Barnet himself, accompanied by an entourage of the ten heads of the various sections, appeared in this city to inform members about the irregularities detected by a committee with regards to the management of funds by its president, the writer and painter Jorge Hidalgo Pimental.

What is laughable on this occasion is that the investigation of irregularities was sparked by anonymous complaints from the artists and workers at the cultural center where Hidlago Pimental is accused of abuse of his position and the possible enrichment of his executive secretary, by the name of Zara.

Diario de Cuba has already published an article about it but I’ll share some details with you here.

Of the 45 works of art that UNEAC bought in the last three years from local fine artists, 15 were the works of Mr. Jorge Hidalgo. Among the other niceties appear payments under Resolution 35 (which offered payments of 135 and 200 pesos for public lectures and conferences among others) made to Mr. Hidlago. One of these was a talk he gave at the headquarters of the Cuba Workers Center in the mountainous city of Mayari and for which he was paid 600 Cuban pesos.

According the report read before a couple of hundred members, the amount that this director paid himself totaled more than two hundred thousand pesos in just three years. Can the committee still not believe that this constitutes a crime? We see in one program, “artistas al fin”, that this gentleman had the right to receive the remuneration that the Culture Ministry intended for this purpose, and even with that he is not before the court?

What happens is that the Cuba penal code doesn’t address those who slice the necks, rip off the heads and climb with their dirty boots on the shoulders of others. One indication of the stinginess which some artists have called attention to, is that for the poetry recitals and the cultural afternoons at the Holguin UNEAC there was almost never a sip of coffee or a miserable drop of locally manufactured rum.

The same Jorge Hidalgo Pimental, almost a year ago, launched himself into a witch hunt against the center’s vice president, Manuel Garcia Verdecia*, and its cultural promoter, Rafael Vilches Proenza*, both well-known writers with a national reputation. Vilches Proenza, as a prelude to that afternoon of the long knives had written some verses:

Let fear not seize the city
Prisoners worry not, be not amazed
In these times of plague
The larger specimens will die.

*Translator’s note: These two men were stripped of their positions for “mis-use of the internet.”

New Farming Push

3 Oct

Photo:  Luis Felipe Rojas

Since a wave of new unemployment is occurring throughout the country, domestic initiatives are also being pushed.  The state co-operatives do not allow anyone else on their staff or in their plant, and as for the surplus going towards agriculture…we’re going to have to see about that, my friend.  Sharecroppers in every corner sharpen their tools and stuff near their homes in order to try to make the land produce. Now, there is a surplus of working hands in the defective state-run system, and the simplest of the working peasants are taking in their urban neighbors.

Rafael, for decades, suffered the scorn of those who thought they were secure at their desks, while he sat on the seat of a truck or at the security checkpoint of a factory.

Today, those who scorned him are sitting at the door to his house, having been propelled to the countryside to find a spot where they can join their peers in the countryside. Since I am not a prophet, weatherman nor an economist, I usually contradict myself: I am betting there will be an individual push; the desire not to die of hunger will make many more look to the land they once trod with disdain to find where the fruit will come from to put on their tables.

The more you press play, the Maroons were more runaways. There is a binge of optimism, this will not release all lines, but will drop some blindfolds and unplugging some ears of stone.

Them more they tighten the game, the more the wild ones push back. It’s not a rash of optimism, this will not loosen the mooring ropes, but it will drop some of the blindfolds and unplug some of the ears of stone.